European Defense Cooperation and Military Capability: European Reflections


By Pierre Tran

Paris – A detailed book on the European Union response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a thoughtful research note from a European think tank point up a perceived need to boost European defense cooperation and military capability, as the U.S. prepares for a presidential election in November.

The Nato allies were due to hold the annual summit, in Washington, July 9-11, with the alliance expected to announce delivery of more air defense weapons, such as Patriot missiles or similar, to Kyiv, Reuters reported July 2.

The book, titled European Defense In the Time of War in Ukraine (Editions du Villard), is from the Brussels-based journalist Nicolas Gros-Verheyde and the B2 reporting team, and recounts the E.U.’s rapid institutional response to the Feb. 24, 2022 assault ordered by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, the European Council for Foreign Relations published July 3 a research note, titled Defending Europe with Less America, from Camille Grand, a distinguished policy fellow. Grand is a former senior official of Nato, and the French ministries for defense, and foreign affairs.

Both publications consider the lessons learned on a full-scale attack, dubbed “special operation” by Putin, on a country in the European heartland.

That invasion was a “strategic revolution,” and led to the E.U. discarding “taboos,” the book European Defense said. Moscow has lost a “strategic battle,” whatever the outcome of its incursion. European states are rearming, Nato is assured, and the E.U. has pledged to expand its membership to the borders of Russia, posing a “real nightmare” to Moscow.

Readers, thanks to briefings given on background to the author, learn more about the swift E.U. imposition of financial and trade sanctions against Moscow, and the political consensus of the 27 member states approving a switch of E.U. funds to buy weapons for Ukraine. The European Peace Facility came in as a handy financial conduit to arm the Ukrainian forces.

“This was the first time that the European Union financed directly, and officially, the delivery of weapons to a country at war,” the book said. A series of €500 million ($541 million) payments have been approved by the member states, with a total €3.6 billion to support Ukraine, most of which was for lethal weapons.

However, dissent from Hungary, one of the member states, held up the eighth and latest €500 million funding, and that remained to be resolved at the time of the writing of the book March 21, the book said.

Viktor Orban met Putin in Moscow July 5, after the Hungarian president took up on Monday the rotating six-month E.U. presidency. Orban, who has close ties with his Russian counterpart, said he was meeting Putin because he was on a “peace mission” for Ukraine.

The president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, warned the Hungarian head of state not to pursue “appeasement” with the Russian leader and not to undermine the unity of the E.U.

The term appeasement has been closely associated with the 1938 Munich agreement with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, in which the then U.K. prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, said there would be “peace in our time.”

Von der Leyen is a German national. Her mandate as president of the commission, the E.U. executive arm, has been reported to be renewed.

Von der Leyen, and the E.U. foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, wrote separate forewards to the book, calling for a stronger European military capability.

The commission president urged a shift in procurement to European arms companies, pointing out that  before the war started, the member states spent in 2021 a total €214 billion on the military, and that was expected to rise to close to €300 billion this year.

Last year, almost 80 percent of that military spending went outside the E.U., she said, which should not continue.

“Our taxpayers’ money should be used to improve our productivity and create more jobs here in Europe,” she said. Arms manufacturers needed to increase their efforts, to persuade member states to buy in Europe, she said.

Supply chains should be “robust and reliable,” required for a rising offer of “defense capability, made in Europe,” to meet a rising demand, she said.

Meanwhile, Borrell agreed that more should be spent on European arms, in view of member states spending 78 percent on new kit from outside the E.U. since the war began in Ukraine.

The E.U. will give Ukraine more than one million artillery shells by the end of the year, he said, and European companies have signed commercial contracts to ship 400,000 shells.

There was also a Czech proposal to buy shells from outside the E.U., which boosts that effort.

“However, in the context of increasing uncertainty over U.S. support, that is insufficient,” he said.

The E.U. failed to meet a pledge to send over one million shells by March this year, and contracts have been signed to increase production of the weapons.

An E.U. fund worth €100 billion to promote European “defense readiness,” was one of the ideas proposed, with the fund financed by E.U.-backed borrowing. That would effectively be  “defense eurobonds,” the book said. Another idea was creation of a defense commissioner post. Thierry Breton effectively holds that post with his title, internal market commissioner.

Cut Dependence

Europe should step up to increasing military preparedness and combat capabilities, make itself less dependent on Washington, and by doing so, increase its attractiveness to the U.S., the ECFR research note said.

“It is time for Europeans to approach defence much more strategically, invest in defence in the long term, and actively prepare to accept more responsibilities for the defence of Europe,” the note.

The war in Ukraine showed the European forces and arms industries were in a “sorry state,” the note said, reflecting the results of the peace dividend and “deep reliance” on the U.S.

A return to the White House by presidential candidate Donald Trump could “drastically reduce U.S. defense support for Europe,” the note said, but Europe needed to do more for its defense, regardless of whoever won the election. The “security environment” was in a poor state and there were shifting U.S. priorities.

“They should focus on developing a European “full force package,” including the combat support capabilities and the key enablers that are currently provided primarily by the U.S.,” the note said. That could be achieved and be funded, if the Europeans drew up a joint plan and worked through Nato and the E.U.

“This would give European countries the ability to address most scenarios, from crisis management to collective defence, with limited U.S. support and might prove not only the best way to guarantee Europe’s security, but the best way to secure the future of the transatlantic alliance, a more security- and defense-oriented E.U., and a more European NATO.

A more independent Europe might make the U.S. more open to staying a close ally.

“Paradoxically, such a deliberate approach to strengthening Europe’s ability to defend itself might also be the best way to preserve a U.S. commitment to European security, including to address the most demanding scenarios or provide ultimate reassurance,” the note said

Editor’s Note: The article highlights key challenges and the need to meet them by European states.

One might note that a strategic redesign is already taking place which changes how European states work defense integration supported by the United States and this was launched by the Trump Administration. 

Strategic Redesign, the 3 Ns and the Osprey